Not only did the class expand my academic faculties as an art historian, it also gave me the opportunity to practice my German language skills, as the class was instructed exclusively in German.
One of the most compelling aspects of my semester abroad at BCGS was taking a class that met weekly at Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie. Every year BCGS selects a visiting professor from one of the consortium’s schools to teach a class for the program’s students. Fortunately for me (an art history major), the visiting professor for my term happened to be Aden Kumler, an art historian from the University of Chicago. Her class took place at the Gemäldegalerie, a museum devoted to painting from the early Renaissance to the late 18th century. The course was oriented around the practice of “slow looking”, an art historical methodology that places importance on the purely visual (rather than the social, historical, or political) constitution of an artwork. In accordance with the philosophy of “slow looking”, we spent every class discussing a single painting within the Gemäldegalerie’s collection. All the students would crowd around the canvas and– over the course of two hours– discuss its most minute details, often revealing hidden nuances not readily apparent upon first glance. The paintings spanned centuries, ranging between artists such as Holbein, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Caravaggio. As preparation for our final paper, we were instructed to choose any painting in the collection (I chose Cranach’s “Fountain of Youth”), spend three hours sitting in front of it, and write down any thoughts, feelings, or associations that arose. Not once in my academic career have I taken an art history class that encouraged me to engage with artwork in such a nuanced, meticulous, and personal way. Not only did the class expand my academic faculties as an art historian, it also gave me the opportunity to practice my German language skills, as the class was instructed exclusively in German. As a German concentrator, it provided the perfect fusion of my two fields of interest; an experience that I would have never been able to engage in if I had not spent the semester in Berlin.